I won’t deny that I was eager to find out the outcome of Bearskin, that its setting, in a mysterious ecological preserve, was captivating, or that the hero, an ex-felon, ex-drug runner scientist, was intriguingly different from other heroes of thrillers. But I found the level of violence hard to take, the repeated, detailed descriptions of various tortures unnecessarily voyeuristic, and the unlikely conjunctions of criminal elements difficult to believe. So the story seemed mostly artificial and the torture scenes tediously punitive.
It’s a good thing that I knew as I read The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir that the author lived to write his memoir, because bullets fly, overdoses happen, and many young men, dealers and addicts both, die over the course of the story, many ending their days bleeding in the arms of the author. The level of violence in East Baltimore is famous, by now, but this story vividly illustrates why young men don’t think they will make it to 20, which may explain some of the risks they take. The author never tries to prescribe solutions for the children who grow up in an environment where drug dealers are the ones with money and power, even if they don’t last long — but the problems are terrifying.
Blackout: Remembering The Things I Drank To Forget is a tough memoir of a functioning alcoholic and her long quest towards sobriety. It’s rather amazing that it takes the author so long to realize that there is something very wrong with not remembering entire sequences of one’s life, but she speaks frankly and even endearingly about her struggles. (And the end is a happy one!)
Named after a very fine quality of cocaine, ZeroZeroZero features El Chapo (in the book, safely imprisoned; now at large after escaping using a large tunnel and on a motorcycle!), dozens of corpses and awful mutilations of rivals and law enforcement officers of all kinds, droves of corrupt officials, a gorgeous DEA agent and many gorgeous and doomed girlfriends of drug traffickers, revelations of ingenious secret language used by traffickers, marble blocks stuffed with cocaine, and a highly entertaining list of cocaine brands, complete with logos. And yet, it’s a remarkably soporific read, strangely jumping from journalistic to encyclopedic, to epic style from one chapter to the next — and punctuated by dull drug traffickers’ captures, usually followed by less dull escapes.
The story does contain many interesting tales, especially about the business of drug trafficking. It could be hoped that the traffickers apply their considerable skills in managing demand creation, distribution, and especially financial intrigue (it’s so hard to launder billions!) to legit businesses. They would make a killing. Wait, wrong word!
High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society struck me as a rather disjointed book but the highly unusual and intriguing personal story carried it through. The two strands of the story are: the memoir of the author, who grew up in a Miami housing project and, of his own admission, ran with the wrong crowd, could easily have gone to prison, and fathered a son while in his teens before becoming a neuroscientist — and his manifesto that drug policy, based on the belief that addicts are helpless creatures, is as wrong-headed as the underlying theory.
The memoir is stunning. On paper, the author should be in prison, not working in a lab with a Ph.D. after his name. His salvation came in multiple steps, starting with his love of sports that made him lay off drugs and his love of hard work, patterned after his mother’s who certainly had issues but not that one, and the luck of being in the Air Force and able to experience postings overseas that showed him it was possible to get an education. It took him years, but he did it.
The author’s research with drug addicts shows that they are much more rational than most people think, and that rationality can be exploited in practical ways to reduce drug use without the ineffective and family- and society-crushing costs of keeping millions in jail. Unfortunately, the research and advocating is presented in a rather muddled and often shrill way, detracting from the message. Too bad, we could use some new ideas when it comes to working with addicts.